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Monday's papers: Syrian gas attack, too few kids, abandoned bikes

Among the items in today's newspaper press, a Finnish chemical weapons expert says a new poison gas attack in Syria came as no surprise, low birth rates look like a long-term trend, and with spring, flocks of abandoned bicycles are again a problem.

Lapsi leikkii.
Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

On Sunday, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä issued a strong condemnation of chemical attacks that have reportedly taken place in Syria.

The reports did not come as a surprise to Professor Paula Vanninen, who heads the Helsinki-based Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Professor Vanninen told the Kuopio daily Savon Sanomat that solid data about the attack can only come from independent investigators gathering samples on site. This in turn is impossible without a ceasefire between government forces and rebels.

"Even during a ceasefire this would be extremely dangerous, anyone going in would do so at the risk of their lives," she pointed out.

Professor Vanninen did not speculate of who is the guilty party in this latest chemical attack in Syria, but said she was not surprised by reports of the possible use of chlorine or Sarin gas. Sarin, she said, has been used in Syria in the past.

Finland was one of the counties involved in destroying toxic wastes shipped out of Syria after the Assad regime agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons programme.

Too few children

Today's Helsingin Sanomat presents readers with an in-depth analysis of a well known issue, the falling birth rate.

However, the paper reports that there is a new twist. It says that the Finance Ministry is showing an interest, and that means that finally the problem is being taken seriously.

The decline in birth rates has long been recognized and some steps have been taken to prepare for future effects. There have been reforms to the pension system and the retirement age has been raised. One driver in plans for reforms in social and healthcare is the need to provide more services for the elderly.

What has not been foreseen is that birth rates are going down faster than had been forecast.

"Now the Finance Ministry has noticed this. When the ministry that looks after money is worried about something, you can be sure that the issue will soon be on the political agenda," writes Helsingin Sanomat.

The paper notes that there are numerous reasons for the fall in birth rates. These include that fact that many people put off starting a family until they are in their 30s. Couples also tend to have fewer children, as well, often only one.

Helsingin Sanomat links this to both economic and educational factors. One point made is that the rate of employment for men in their "best years" for starting families, 25-34, has fallen this century at the same pace as the birth rate.

The knee-jerk reaction by politicians, says the paper, is to turn to family policy, that is improvements in child benefits and parental leaves - something easier said than done. Another response is to look to immigration, which Helsingin Sanomat describes as "a social theme that could not be more controversial."

More time for dads

Still on family affairs, Turun Sanomat was among the papers reporting that the government's minister of family affairs and social services, Annika Saarikko, has sent out a circular to maternity and child care clinics urging staff to remind new fathers that they are entitled to parental leave.

The reminder is part of the "It's Daddy Time" campaign by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health aimed at getting fathers to take advantage of their right to time off work to spend with their youngsters. (An online information package is also available in English)

There are over 1.2 million fathers in the country. Around 90 percent of the fathers of children under the age of 18 work, and the longest working weeks are put in by the fathers of children under school age.

Even though parents can split childcare, in 2016 payments to fathers for childcare leave time account for only 10 percent of all payments, and nearly one-fifth of fathers did not take any of the paid leave they were entitled to.

Abandoned bikes

It's the start of spring, and according to today's Metro freesheet one sure sign of that is the plague of abandoned bicycles in the capital.

The paper writes that there are hundreds of bikes abandoned around the city, with the largest numbers to be found around the main railway station and nearby Narikkatori square.

Probably the biggest problems with these bikes is that they have been left in public bike racks, taking up space that is mean for use by active cyclists.

Getting rid of these bikes is no simple matter. Since by law bicycles are classified as vehicles, they have to be ticketed just like an illegally parked car, and the owners given seven days to claim and move their property.

If not claimed, the bikes go to a city impound. They can be claimed later for a period of two months, after which any that can be repaired and reconditioned are turned over to a workshop that provides part-time jobs to the unemployed and then sold at recycling centres. The rest are scrapped.

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